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John Kerry: “Administration Sending U.S. Troops into Crossfire of Escalating Civil War”

by Pamela Leavey

Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning on Iraq. In his testimony he claimed he never “painted a rosy picture” about Iraq. ThinkProgress says not so.

On the floor of the Senate this afternoon, John Kerry spoke about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s deep denial on the situation in Iraq, as Rumsfeld “waxed optimistic” during his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning. Kerry told the members of the Senate today, “No matter what the Administration tells you, there is a civil war raging in Iraq.” The BBC reported today that Britain’s outgoing ambassador in Baghdad has warned Tony Blair in a confidential memo that “civil war is a more likely outcome in Iraq than democracy.”

Below John Kerry’s remarks on Iraq on the floor of the Senate this afternoon (As prepared for delivery):

Mr. President, yesterday I was at Arlington National Cemetery for the funeral of Lance Corporal Geoffrey R. Cayer, a 20 year old from Massachusetts, and I was struck by the number of funerals taking place and the number of new headstones bearing the inscription “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

One of those among the fallen is Phillip Baucus, the nephew of our friend and colleague Sen. Baucus. Phillip was a proud and brave Marine Corps Corporal who gave his life serving his country last Saturday in Anbar Province in Iraq. He was an extraordinary young man, and I know from Max what he meant to his family and what a totally devastating blow this is to all of them. My prayers are for Phillip and every family which has endured this kind of monumental loss. Phillip and Lance Corporal Cayer and all those who have given their lives are a tough reminder to all of the incredible sacrifices Americas’ children are making every day.

Mr. President, with the violence in Iraq growing worse by the day, it was stunning to hear Secretary Rumsfeld come before the Armed Services Committee this morning with a laundry list of excuses and denials about what is happening there and its consequences for the region. General Abizaid candidly acknowledged that the “sectarian violence is as bad as I’ve seen it,” that he’s rarely seen the situation “so unsettled and so volatile.” He warned of coming civil war, and that “failure to apply coordinated regional and international pressure … will further extremism” and could lead to a widening and more perilous conflict.

But this morning Secretary Rumsfeld did not call for that kind of diplomacy, and he did not lay out a plan for that kind of leadership. Nor has President Bush reached out to undertake the kind of crisis diplomacy needed in Iraq or to leverage the regional pressure to stop Iraq from descending into irretrievable chaos.

No – Secretary Rumsfeld announced that “there’s a number of good things happening… amidst all of this difficulty, the currency is fairly stable, the schools are open, the hospitals are open, the people are functioning.” Secretary Rumsfeld waxed optimistic about an Iraq where “you see people out in the fields doing things and people driving their cars and lining up for gasoline and going about their business.” He went on to say that “despite all of the difficulties, there are also some good trend lines that are occurring, and I think the period ahead is an important period.”

Mr. President, this is more than an important period, this may well be the moment that decides the security of the Middle East itself, and it’s time the Administration was candid about the situation and got to work on rescuing what’s salvageable in Iraq.

With at least 2,578 Americans killed, over 19,000 wounded, and no end in sight, we simply cannot sit idly by as more of our kids die for a policy that isn’t working. And we cannot be silent while this Administration continues to deny reality and repeat the same mistakes.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this Congress has a constitutional responsibility and a moral obligation to hold this Administration accountable for making the right choices for our troops and our country.

That starts with demanding honesty when it comes to the war in Iraq. Because the bottom line is that this Administration is sending more U.S. troops into the crossfire of an escalating civil war in Iraq – and they refuse to come clean with the American people about it.

No more half measures, no more staged phony political debates — it’s time to tell the truth about the consequences of today’s failed policy in Iraq.

No matter what the Administration tells you, there is a civil war raging in Iraq.

The President’s policy of standing down U.S. troops as Iraqis stand up has finally been exposed as nothing more than a misleading myth: in fact, we are actually increasing our overall troop presence even as they tell us that many more Iraqis soldiers have been trained — and we’ve reportedly all but abandoned hope of withdrawing significant numbers of U.S. troops this year, even as the Iraqi President tells us that Iraqis can take over security responsibility throughout their country by the end of the year.

Yesterday, we learned more about our dangerously overstretched military when the top National Guard General warned that more than two-thirds of the Army National Guard’s brigades are not combat ready.

And worst of all, there is no end in sight and no realistic plan to turn the tide.

To change course we must first confront the realities on the ground, starting by acknowledging that there is a civil war going on in Iraq. The Administration denies that because it doesn’t fit their rhetoric — but by objective standards that is exactly what’s happening. Just look at the facts.

In the first six months of the year, 14,338 Iraqi civilians were killed, mostly in sectarian violence. Prime Minister Maliki acknowledged last week that an average of 100 Iraqi civilians are being killed every day. Just think about that for a second: 100 people killed every day. And the violence has only been getting worse: 2,669 civilians were killed in May, and 3,129 civilians were killed in June. That’s nearly 6,000 Iraqi civilians killed in the last two months alone. And since the February 22nd bombing of the Shia mosque in Samarra, the government reports that 30,359 families — or about 182,000 people — have fled their homes due to sectarian violence and intimidation

Mr. President, this is not just a civil war – by historical standards, it’s a relatively large scale civil war. In fact, a recent academic analysis published in the New York Times showed that the median number of casualties in civil wars since 1945 is 18,000. Estimates of total casualties in Iraq vary, but the number is probably at least twice that many. Larry Diamond, a former consultant to the provisional authority in Baghdad, has put it simply: “In academic terms, this is a civil war, and it’s not even a small one.”

The Iraqis from all sides understand what’s going on in their country – and they’re not afraid to speak the truth. Haidar al-Ibadi, a prominent Shiite legislator, said that “Certainly, what is happening is the start of the civil war. Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni legislator, also described the recent violence as “the start of a civil war,” and another leading Sunni, Adnan Dulaimi, recently said “It’s nothing less than an undeclared civil war.”

Still, the Administration continues to deny the plain facts about the civil war just as they once downplayed the insurgency. Remember when it was first clear that chaos had given way to a determined insurgency? Secretary Rumsfeld told us they were just a bunch of “dead enders.” Vice President Cheney told us last year that the insurgency was “in it last throes.” And just look at the results. Since then, the number of Iraqi insurgents has increased by 20 percent, and the insurgency is now more than six times stronger that it was in May of 2003. And once again, it’s our troops that pay the price – in fact, the number of IED attacks on U.S. troops has nearly doubled since January.

Now, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, the Administration denies that there’s a civil war. Who do they think they’re kidding? Why not just level with the American public? Because this is one more inconvenient truth they’d prefer not to deal with. In fact, Secretary Rumsfeld said just a few months ago that if civil war did break out, Iraqi forces – not U.S. troops– would be the ones dealing with it.

Yet not only are our U.S. troops now caught in this civil war – we’re actually sending more of them into the crossfire. That’s right: the Administration doesn’t want to talk about it, but we are actually sending more U.S. troops into Iraq.

When the President announced his plan last week to increase the U.S. troop presence in Baghdad, he said the troops would come from other areas of Iraq. He did not mention that additional troops have been sent into Iraq from Kuwait, and that current deployments were being extended as new troops arrived. He did not mention what both the Washington Post and New York Times have reported: that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq is going to increase by several thousand. And he did not mention that recently-announced deployment schedules could bring the number of U.S. troops in Iraq even higher in the coming years.

Finally, he did not explain why this strategy will work when similar efforts have just failed. The fact is that a few months ago, U.S. and coalition troops in Baghdad increased from 40,000 to 55,000 – and the violence has only gotten worse. Now, the President says we are going to send a few thousand more U.S. troops into Baghdad. Why is this going to be any different?

One thing is clear: under this Administration’s current approach, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be drawing down any significant numbers of U.S. troops from Iraq this year. This is despite the fact that Secretary Rumsfeld said on Wednesday that there are some 275,000 trained Iraqi security forces, with 325,000 expected to be trained by the end of the year. And General Martin Dempsey, the American general in charge of training Iraqi security forces, said in June that the new Iraqi army would be formed and at full strength by the end of this calendar year. In fact, Iraqi President Talabani declared just yesterday that Iraqis could take over security in the entire country by the end of this year.

If the Iraqis are standing up, as the Administration is telling us, why are U.S. troops not standing down? Because the President’s mantra that “as Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down” is not a plan – it’s misleading rhetoric that now rings as hollow as “we’ll be greeted as liberators”, and “mission accomplished.” And given how bad the situation has gotten, does “stay the course” really sound any better?

This bottom line is that this approach hasn’t worked because its underlying assumption – that more troops are the real solution to the problem – is fundamentally flawed. As our generals, the Iraqi leaders, and the Secretary of State herself have told us, there is no military solution to the insurgency. And just today, Secretary Rumsfeld acknowledged that there’s no military solution to the sectarian violence. In fact, all can agree that the only hope for salvaging a measure of lasting success in Iraq is finding a political solution that all of the Iraqis can buy into.

So how do we accomplish that? By finally engaging in the intensive diplomacy that has been so inexplicably lacking from this Administration’s approach to Iraq.

We used to understand diplomacy must be the primary means of advancing America’s national security interests. We used to remember that war is the ultimate failure of diplomacy – and the best way to end it.

Unfortunately, our current diplomacy is not anywhere near as effective as it needs to be. In fact, so much of what we used to take for granted in national security policy has now been called into question.

We used to know that despite our differences in political philosophy and in perspective our two great parties could cooperate to craft international policies in our national interest.

We used to understand that the unique and historic role of the United States in world affairs required a far-sighted and multi-faceted approach to protecting our people and our interests.

We used to value as a national treasure the international alliances and institutions that enhanced our strength, amplified our voice, and reflected our traditions and ideals in maintaining a free and secure world.

We used to say politics stopped at the water’s edge–we used to call on our people to share in the sacrifices demanded by freedom, and our leaders used to raise hopes and inspire trust, not raise fears and demand blind faith.

We used to measure America’s strength and security by our moral authority, our economic leadership, and our diplomatic skills, as well as by the power of our military.

Think about how much things have changed, when Tom Friedman wrote just days ago that “our President and Secretary of State, although they speak with great mortal clarity, have no moral authority. That’s been shattered by their performance in Iraq.”

Key to any hope of stabilizing Iraq is changing course and engaging in the sustained diplomacy from the highest levels of America’s leadership that matches the effort of our soldiers on the ground.

History shows the results that genuine diplomacy can bring. In 1995, there was a brutal civil war in Bosnia involving Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Faced with a seemingly intractable stalemate in the midst of horrific ethnic cleansing, the Clinton Administration took action. Led by Richard Holbrooke, they brought leaders of the Bosnian parties together in Dayton, Ohio with representatives from the European Union, Russia and Britain to hammer out a peace agreement that brought relative stability to the region.

It is past time for the Administration to engage in this type of major diplomatic initiative. While an international process has begun to bring reconstruction and economic aid to Iraq, a true national compact is still needed to bring about a political solution to the insurgency and end the cycle of Sunni-Shia violence.

My strategy would help achieve this by working with the Iraqis to convene a Dayton-like summit that includes leaders of the Iraqi government, the countries bordering Iraq, the Arab League, NATO, the European Union, and the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council. This would enable the Iraqis to engage in the intensive diplomacy necessary to forge a comprehensive political agreement that addresses security guarantees, oil revenues, federalism, and the disbanding of the militias. And all parties would agree on a process for securing Iraq’s borders.

These are the key elements of the political agreement necessary to decrease the violence – and they are not tasks that U.S. troops can – or should – be responsible for. They are the responsibility of civilian personnel, especially Iraqis. And success will require collective effort that engages members of the international community who share our interest in a stable Iraq. To enlist their support, we must address their concerns about security in the region after we have withdrawn from Iraq. That’s why this summit should lay the groundwork for creating a new regional security structure that strengthens the security of the countries in the region and the wider community of nations.

Mr. President, we must also recognize that redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq is an essential part of a strategy for success. In fact, our own generals and the Iraqi National Security Adviser, Mr. Rubaie, tell us that the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops actually fuels the insurgency. That’s why I say that to change course now, we must acknowledge that it takes a deadline to get Iraq up on its own two feet and get American troops home. My strategy would redeploy U.S. forces from Iraq within one year in accordance with a schedule coordinated with the Iraqi Government, leaving only those forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions, and protecting United States facilities and personnel. It also calls for keeping a rapid reaction force over the horizon in Kuwait so that we can always bring overwhelming force to bear on any concentration of enemy forces.

Coordinating a schedule for redeploying our troops is not cutting and running – it’s a key to finding the political solution that is needed to stabilize Iraq. As we know from Mr. Rubaie, this will give the Iraqi leadership the best chance to stabilize the country by empowering and legitimizing the new government with the Iraqi people, expediting the process of getting Iraqis to assume a larger role in running their country, and undermining support for the insurgency among the vast majority of Iraqis who want U.S. troops to leave.

We know that Prime Minister Maliki understands this, that’s why he has talked openly about a timeframe for the reduction of U.S. forces. We know that Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey are discussing with the Iraqi government the formation of a joint commission to outline terms and conditions for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. We know from Mr. Rubaie that there is already “an unofficial ‘road map’ to foreign troop reductions that will eventually lead to total withdrawal of U.S. troops.” We know that General Casey has drafted a plan for significantly reducing U.S. troop levels by the end of 2007. We know that polls of Iraqis have shown that 87% – including 94% of the Sunnis and 90% of the Shia — support their government endorsing a timeline for U.S. withdrawal.

If the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, our Ambassador and top military commander, and the majority of Americans can see that the time has come for a timeframe for the redeployment of U.S. forces, why can’t the Bush Administration?

Think about that for a second: for over three years, the President has said that we’re prepared to stay “as long as it takes,” and during this time the insurgency has only grown stronger and sectarian killings are now at an all time high. Does anyone really think more of the same will solve the problem?

We simply cannot allow the Administration to undermine this key aspect of a successful strategy in Iraq because they are too stubborn to admit that the timeline they have so adamantly opposed is now clearly an important part of the way forward. The bottom line is that by the middle of next year, the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops will have served its purpose. That does not mean we will be abandoning Iraq, it simply means our involvement will change.

Mr. President, even as we consider the way forward in Iraq, we must not lose sight of the war raging on the other side of the Middle East in Lebanon and Israel. Watching the news from the Mideast these days is an exercise in continual heartbreak. As Israel continues military operations to defend itself against the grave threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon and missiles still rain on innocents in northern Israel, our hearts go out to people suffering all across the Mideast.

We all want peace, and the death of every child—Lebanese in Qana or Israeli in Haifa—is an unspeakable tragedy. But we know from the hard lessons of the past that lasting peace will not come easily – and it will not come without the type of sustained involvement at the highest levels of the U.S. government that we have not seen from this Administration.

In fact, the violence we are seeing now is in part the bitter fruit of years of U.S. neglect in the region, yet another disastrous byproduct of being distracted and bogged down in Iraq. Our inattention to diplomacy and failure to disarm Hezbollah and stop the flow of weapons from Iran and Syria — as required by UN Resolution 1559 — left Israel to respond to this terrorist organization’s provocations with a bloody war that threatens to spread into a larger regional conflict. In fact, just a few hours ago General Abizaid testified that if that Resolution 1559 had been fully implemented, we wouldn’t be in this situation today. And it’s clear that our compromised position in Iraq, combined with our diplomatic isolation in the region, has reduced our leverage and undermined our ability to bring about the lasting resolution that is so desperately needed.

Make no mistake about it: Israel has every right to defend itself against these terrorists. The people of Israel can count on the stalwart support of the United States during these difficult times. At the same time, the Lebanese people must know that Americans also care deeply about protecting innocent civilians and preserving their fragile democracy.

That’s why we must work urgently to achieve a viable and sustainable peace agreement that includes an international force capable of ensuring Israel’s security and Lebanon’s complete territorial sovereignty, the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, and the permanent removal of the threat posed by Hezbollah. Given the dire circumstances, it’s imperative that we do everything in our power to accomplish this as soon as possible – and we shouldn’t be afraid of talking to any country that will help us advance this objective.

But that cannot be the end of our involvement – in fact, it must be the beginning of a new era of sustained diplomatic engagement in the region. The unmistakable lesson here is that we need more much than just crisis diplomacy – we need preventive diplomacy that addresses the underlying problems before they explode. That means putting an end – once and for all – to state sponsorship of terrorism by Iran and Syria. And that requires a renewed commitment to work ceaselessly to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East.

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